Jacksonville City Council approves Lofts at Southbank rezoning despite community opposition

Developers of the project that includes apartments and self-storage units also awarded a $6 million interest-only loan.

  • By Ric Anderson
  • | 8:41 p.m. April 23, 2024
  • | 4 Free Articles Remaining!
A conceptual design shows the northeast view of the Lofts at Southbank. The site is at 1004 Hendricks Ave., on the southwest corner of Prudential Drive and Hendricks Avenue.
A conceptual design shows the northeast view of the Lofts at Southbank. The site is at 1004 Hendricks Ave., on the southwest corner of Prudential Drive and Hendricks Avenue.
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The Jacksonville City Council voted April 23 to advance development  plans for The Lofts at Southbank, despite stiff opposition from nearby residents over the inclusion of several hundred self-storage units.

On split votes, Council approved legislation for the 10-story mixed-use development that sandwiches four floors of self-storage amid multifamily units and space for retail, restaurants and offices.

The $38.8 million project is planned at southwest Prudential Drive and Hendricks Avenue at the site of a closed restaurant.

The Council:

• Voted 11-8 to approve Ordinance 2024-0152, which rezones the property to Planned Unit Development. Randy White, Michael Boylan, Kevin Carrico, Rory Diamond, Terrance Freeman, Ju’Coby Pittman, Nick Howland, Reggie Gaffney Jr., Mike Gay, Rahman Johnson and Chris Miller voted yes. Council President Ron Salem and members Ken Amaro, Raul Arias, Joe Carlucci, Matt Carlucci, Tyrona Clark-Murray, Will Lahnen and Jimmy Peluso voted no. 

• Voted 16-3 to approve Ordinance 2024-0272, which provides a $6 million interest-only loan to develop affordable housing as part of the project. Joe Carlucci, Matt Carlucci and Peluso voted no.

Plans call for 75 units to be reserved for households making at or below 60% of area median income and five units making at or below 120% of AMI, with the remaining 20 units being market rate. The city would provide the loan at 1% interest for 18 years.

Residents protest

As has occurred before, numerous residents turned out to oppose the project. They argued that self-storage is not a permitted use under the Downtown overlay of zoning regulations and is not needed in the area because of the close proximity of other self-storage operations in permitted locations.

A conceptual design shows the northwest view of the Lofts at Southbank.

Liz Figura attended the meeting in a black dress and black veil, saying she’d planned to tell Council that the integrity of the historical San Marco neighborhood had moved into hospice.

“However, it appears now that we’ve moved from hospice to the funeral home,” she said. 

Asked if she believed the neighbors had lost their battle against the project, Figura suggested a lawsuit might be the only way to keep the development from being built. 

“I’m certainly disappointed,” she said. “I guess we’re not putting enough money in the right Council members’ pockets.”

Third attempt

The Council approved the third version of the project, which first emerged as a strictly self-storage development in 2022. That project stalled after the Council withdrew a bill that would have amended the Downtown zoning overlay to permit self-storage facilities on the Northbank and Southbank.

The Lofts at Southbank site at Prudential Drive and Hendricks Avenue.
Photo by Ric Anderson

G.I.S. Holdings of Atlanta came back with a mixed-use project that included residential and retail space but not an affordable housing component. After the Downtown Development Review Board staff recommended denying the project and the DDRB voted against it, the Council voted 9-9 on a rezoning request for the development in June 2023.

City staff advised that a tie vote amounted to denial, prompting the developer to go through a mediation process that ended with the door being left open for what became the third version of the project.

The DDRB staff recommended denying that version as well, but the DDRB board disagreed with the staff, voting 7-1 on April 9 in favor of recommending that the Council approve the rezoning.

Tie vote legislation

The mediation outcome also formed the basis for another piece of legislation, Ordinance 2024-0119, that specifies that tie votes are not denials. Council approved that ordinance on April 23 as well on a 15-4 vote with Joe Carlucci, Matt Carlucci, Clark-Murray and Peluso opposed.

A site plan for the Lofts at Southbank project at 1004 Hendricks Ave.

The April 23 actions came after the Council Land Use and Zoning Committee voted 4-3 on April 16 to recommend passage of the project, with some members saying that the developer was told during the mediation process that it could return with a mixed-use project that was substantially different from the second version but then was denied a recommendation for approval from the DDRB staff.

Miller echoed those concerns before the April 23 votes.

“Quite honestly there were city officials, elected and otherwise, who moved the goal line,” he said. “I do not believe this is the way we should be doing business in this city. There were a lot of adjustments made, and enough so that it would garner my support for this project.”

“Shaking mad”

Council member Matt Carlucci, an at-large member who lives in San Marco, said it made him “shaking mad” that some of his colleagues commended the developer for changing the plan to address the concerns of neighbors.

Jacksonville City Council member Matt Carlucci.

He called those comments “bunk” and “bull.” 

Citing the protagonist in the classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” he said neighbors weren’t in favor of the plan, changes or not. 

“As Atticus Finch said, compromise is an agreement reached by mutual consent. I don’t see mutual consent. There is none,” he said. “There are thousands of people who oppose this, and they happen to be right.”

Several Council members said they had received as many as 300 emails in opposition to the project.

“Please, support the people,” Matt Carlucci said. “Don’t support developers all the time, support the people.”

Project a ‘reward’

Council member Nick Howland expressed a different view, saying he believed that voting against the project would “incentivize developers to ignore community concerns.”

“I want to reward neighbors who get involved with their communities and reward developers who accommodate them,” he said.

Nick Howland

Howland said changes to the project included getting a local developer and architect involved, revising the exterior design, adding affordable units and agreeing to amendments recommended by the DDRB.

Among those amendments, 8,500 square feet of the ground floor retail space must be dedicated to retail use unrelated to the self-storage and residential leasing operations, and self-storage access and hours of operation must be limited to 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

City documents list the developer as Jacksonville-based Vestcor through Lofts at Southbank Ltd. The architect is Group 4 Design Inc. The contractor is Summit Contracting Group.

Owners are listed as G.I.S. Holdings of Atlanta, A. Walter Hirshberg Family Trust and Karen Hirshberg.

The self-storage portion of the project would be a CubeSmart facility. 

Needs DDRB approval

The project still needs approval from the DDRB to keep moving toward fruition. On April 11, the board deferred conceptual approval of the development, citing concerns over its aesthetics.

The deferral allowed the developer to return with a new design. That design will need to undergo two reviews, one for conceptual approval and the other for final design approval.

A DDRB staff report on the Lofts at Southbank describes the project as a 10-story building with ground floor retail, office, restaurant or other commercial space, self-storage on the third through sixth floors and multifamily residential units on the top four floors.



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